Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair
by William Makepeace Thackeray
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Vanity Fair Theme of Sex

Vanity Fair takes a knowing and mature look at adult sexuality. Thackeray does not shy away from describing the sexual appeal of his characters and the way they carry out their intimate relationships, and he makes a slew of double-entendre jokes. Of course, in keeping with the standards and practices of the time, there is no overt description of the physical. Still, with its interest in the vagaries of sexual appetites, from the depraved to the extramaritally curious to the monogamously satisfied, the novel isn't afraid to look at the seamier and steamier aspects of adult life.

Questions About Sex

  1. Becky's green eyes are described as being particularly powerful: she gets a marriage proposal while still in school by shooting a curate a glance; she stares at George looking at himself in the mirror and thus angers him; and she knows to keep her eyes on the floor or the ceiling when dealing with Jos because they are too much for him. Why the eyes? What happens when she looks at men? At women? At material objects?
  2. Becky's overt sexuality and obvious appeal makes us wonder about the sex lives of other characters in the novel. Pitt and Lady Jane? Bute and Mrs. Bute? George and Amelia? Dobbin and Amelia? Major O'Dowd and Mrs. O'Dowd? Can we determine anything about what these couples might be like in private from what we know of them?
  3. There are newly married couples and long-married ones in the novel. Pick a couple that has been together for a long time and try to imagine what their courtship was like. Who was the aggressor and who was being wooed? How do you know? Then do the reverse – imagine and describe a newlywed couple in their middle or old age.

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Despite the generally prudish attitudes of the Victorians, and despite the morally questionable sexual shenanigans of such characters as Becky and Lord Steyne, the novel is surprisingly sex-positive. It implies that Rawdon and Becky are enjoying married life and the general sense that desire and its fulfillment are a natural part of adulthood.

Although she is appealing to others, Becky does not seem to have any sexual desire herself. This is why she is able to attract so many men – she has the ability to seduce without the hindrance of wanting someone herself.

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